By Annette Laico
Every year on the fourth Tuesday in February, animal welfare organizations around the globe celebrate “World Spay Day,” a campaign championed by The Humane Society of The United States, which shines a spotlight on spay/neuter as a way to save the lives of companion animals. This year, World Spay Day celebrated its 20th anniversary. PAWS has been deeply involved in this campaign since its inception, spearheading a multi-county effort which has altered more than 8,000 animals.
PAWS was founded in 1967 when a group of citizens became concerned about the animal overpopulation problem in the community. Recognizing that cost was a major barrier to spay/neuter for pet guardians, PAWS’ founders opened a thrift store whose proceeds were distributed to the public in the form of spay/neuter vouchers. In 1970, PAWS become the first animal shelter in Washington state to require that all animals be spayed and neutered prior to adoption. Many other animal shelters followed suit, and today, it is a widespread policy in the animal welfare field.
So if such a simple, humane and widely-accepted solution to the problem of animal overpopulation has been in existence for decades, you might wonder, “Why are we still talking about spay and neuter?” While the answer to that question is not quite as simple as the solution itself, it’s clear that economics are still a big piece of the puzzle.
A number of recent studies have confirmed PAWS’ founders’ original theory — that among guardians of unaltered animals, the overwhelming reason cited for not spaying or neutering their pet is financial limitations.
For many years, PAWS and dozens of other shelters around the state have provided affordable spay/neuter surgeries to the pets of low-income community members. Yet, the demand for these services continues. Year after year, shelters overflow with abandoned and unwanted pets. PAWS alone welcomes more than a thousand puppies and kittens through our doors each year, not to mention thousands of adult cat and dogs, many of whom have already created offspring before even crossing our threshold. Despite the best efforts of so many groups, it’s clear that community and non-profit organizations simply cannot meet the need that exists for affordable spay/neuter surgeries.
Meanwhile, communities continue to spend millions of tax dollars every year to provide animal control services and care for unwanted and abandoned animals. While many states have already realized significant cost savings by addressing the root of the problem through public spay/neuter programs which are supported by a small surcharge on pet-related goods and services, Washington is not one of them.
Animal welfare groups throughout Washington have been lobbying for over five years to create such a program through the passage of a spay/neuter bill. But year after year, it continues to die in the Legislature, as it did again this year. In order for this bill to pass, and the animals in our state to realize a brighter future, the public must recognize that spay and neuter is still a relevant and important issue — and not just one that affects animal groups, but the entire community.
For now, I remain hopeful that one day soon, we will celebrate World Spay Day with the assistance of a statewide spay/neuter program. Until then, we will continue to talk about spay and neuter with anyone who will listen.
For more information on the Spay/Neuter Assistance Bill, please visit www.savewashingtonpets.org.
Annette Laico is the Executive Director of PAWS in Lynnwood.